Most people who have dogs will describe them as part of the family, so it’s no wonder that many owners will give their four legged friends human food; whether occasionally or on a regular basis.
Many dogs will happily eat what their humans give to them, regardless of whether or not it’s good for them, so it’s up to their owners to make sure that they are not accidentally harming them.
There is a lot of information out there about what human food is and isn’t safe for canines. This is a simple guide to the good, the bad, and the potentially deadly.
Is feeding dogs human food wrong?
The short answer is no, it’s not.
Just like humans, dogs need a varied and balanced diet. While good dog foods will provide balance, they do not provide variety and, just like humans, our pets can become bored of eating the same food every day for every meal.
While many people tend to think of dogs as carnivores, they are actually omnivores. As dogs are naturally scavengers rather than hunters, their ancestors ate whatever food was available at the time, just as today’s wild dogs do.
Until the recent development of specific dog food, they would simply have been fed scraps and leftovers from their owners’ meals.
Today, even with the best dog food available, adding human food into our dogs’ daily food is a way to add interest to their diet. It can also help to top up essential nutrients to improve their health.
However, where owners choose to give their pets human food, this should be calculated as part of their overall nutritional intake, rather than as an addition to it, to help prevent weight gain and other health issues.
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Shouldn’t dogs mainly eat meat?
This is a common misconception. While meat is important for a dog’s health, too much meat is bad for them.
Meat provides dogs with protein, essential fats, and iron, plus vitamins and minerals that are vital for strong muscles, skin, and a healthy coat. However, only 18-25 percent of their diet should be protein, and just 10-15 percent fat.
The right amount of fat is important. Dogs need fatty acids to remain healthy and maintain energy levels. Too little fat and a dog’s immune system can become affected and, perhaps surprisingly, makes a dog more likely to develop heart disease and diabetes.
Heart disease and diabetes won’t be immediately obvious, but a dull coat and dry, itchy skin are indicators that there is a problem. Unsurprisingly, too much fat leads to excess calories and, without enough exercise to use them up, the dog will put on weight.
This will put strain on their joints and major organs. In addition to this, dogs should never be fed the fatty offcuts from meat as cooked meat fat is harder for dogs to digest and can lead to pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that can cause severe pain.
Meat is high in protein, which is necessary for the repair and renewal of cells in the body, including muscles, organs, skin and fur. However, dogs are unable to store excess protein, and so it is processed by the liver and kidneys before being excreted in urine.
An excess of protein causes the liver and kidneys to work harder and can, over time, lead to problems such as failure to function properly.
While puppies need a higher level of protein proportionately than adult dogs to support their growth, too much protein can lead to greater risk of arthritis in later life, particularly in larger breeds.
What meat should I feed my dog?
Although dogs have fairly robust digestive systems, they are susceptible to the same bacterial infections as humans.
For this reason they should never be given raw meat. Raw meat can contain salmonella and E.Coli, which cause diarrhoea, vomiting and, in some cases, even death.
As mentioned above, too much fat is unhealthy, so any meat given to them should have excess fat trimmed off, although they do not need to have the leanest meat.
Turkey and chicken are great foods for dogs as they are naturally lean meats and gentle on the stomach. However, due to the fat content, the skin should be not be given to your pet.
Cooked giblets (the organs of the bird) can be fed in moderation. Beef is also a good choice, although richer, and therefore not so gentle on the stomach as poultry.
While lamb is delicious, it is a particularly fatty meat, so it is better to restrict how much you feed your dog, particularly if they already have a weight problem.
While liver is a good source of iron, it is also high in vitamin A, which can be harmful. Vitamin A is stored in the liver and can build up over time.
When this happens, it can lead to a range of problems, including bone spurs, lethargy, limping, weakness, weight loss and constipation. For these reasons, liver should be fed in very restricted amounts, if at all.
My dog loves cat food. Should I let him eat it?
No. Cat food should not be given to dogs. Cats need a greater amount of protein and fats than dogs, and this is reflected in the composition of their food. This makes it unsuitable for dogs for the reasons given above.
What about bones?
A dog chewing on a bone is a traditional image, but bones should be provided to dogs with care.
Cooked bones of any type should never be given to a dog. Cooking bones changes their composition, causing them to become brittle. This can lead to them splintering when chewed.
Bone splinters carry several risks for dogs:
- or perforation of any part of the digestive system.
All of these can be fatal. For the same reason, small bones, such as ribs and chicken bones should never be given. These are naturally weak and prone to splintering.
When it comes to raw bones, the jury is out. Some experts believe that large, solid bones, such as beef, lamb, and pork legs are beneficial for a dog’s teeth and gums, as the chewing action helps to remove plaque build-up.
They can also satisfy a dog’s natural urge to chew. Any bones provided should be greater than the length of the muzzle so that the dog is unable to swallow it. Other experts are concerned about the risk of salmonella and E.coli.
For those worried about this risk, pet shops often sell sterilised bones that do not have the same hazard of splintering as cooked bones.
Is fish good for dogs?
Fish provides oils, fats and amino acids that support healthy coats, skin and eyes. Like meat, fish should be cooked. Salmon and trout are of particular concern, as when raw, they can contain the parasite nanophyetus salmincola.
While this parasite isn’t dangerous itself, it often contains a bacteria called neorickettsia helminthoeca, which can cause death.
There are mixed opinions on whether it is a good idea to feed dogs tuna or swordfish. While tuna in particular provides plenty of the B vitamins and omega-3, which are beneficial, these long-living fish that can be high in mercury content, which can harm your dog.
If you do decide to feed your dog tuna and opt for canned, make sure that it is packed in water rather than oil. Other naturally oily fish include mackerel, herring and sardines, as well as trout and salmon.
Whatever type of fish you choose, it should be thoroughly cooked, without seasoning and preferably without butter or oils, then served cooled.
While it may be time consuming, any bones should be removed prior to cooking, to prevent choking or damage to the digestive system. The bones in sardines are small enough that they do not need to be removed.
Fish should be limited to a maximum of twice a week.
What about dairy products?
Dairy products are a great source of calcium, which supports strong bones. However, whether you can give your dog dairy products depends upon your individual pet.
While many dogs enjoy milk, cheese and yoghurt, some are unable to tolerate the lactose contained in dairy products. This can be a particular problem for older dogs whose digestive systems may not be as good as they once were.
Milk should be avoided once a dog reaches adulthood. While puppies produce enough lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose) to cope with milk, most adult dogs do not. It is easy to spot if your dog is lactose intolerant – consumption of dairy is likely to be followed by diarrhoea and flatulence.
Cheese contains less lactose than milk. This makes it easier for dogs to digest, and so is suitable for most adult dogs.
All types of cheese can be given to dogs, whether block, wheel, cottage, cream, or even processed slices.
Owners should be aware, however, of the salt and sodium contained in cheese, as high levels can cause problems, as well as the fat content. Low fat, low sodium cottage cheese is ideal.
The right types of yoghurt can be very beneficial for dogs. Probiotics and those with live cultures support the digestive system, so plain, low-fat or non-fat yoghurt is best.
Yoghurts containing fruit or flavourings, sweeteners, or fat replacements, such as
should be avoided
On hot days it can be tempting to give your dog ice-cream to help keep them cool, however, ice-cream tends to be high in fat, sugar and sweeteners, so is best avoided. Frozen yoghurt that meets the above criteria is a far better option.
Can I give my dog eggs?
Eggs that are cooked thoroughly are a good source of easily digestible protein, plus fatty acids and iron. They can be particularly beneficial for dogs that are prone to digestive problems, or are recovering from a stomach upset.
While we may not like eating eggshells, they contain calcium and can also be fed to dogs to support their bones.
Whether raw eggs can be fed to dogs is a matter of debate. Some experts believe that it is safe to do so, while others say that the risk of salmonella means that they are not safe.
Raw egg whites contain an enzyme called avidin that can decrease the absorption of biotin, a type of B vitamin, which can cause skin and coat problems. If, as an owner, you choose to give your dog raw egg, you should limit the quantity given, and monitor how your dog reacts to them.
Is peanut butter safe or unsafe for dogs?
Many dogs love peanut butter and putting it inside a chew toy can be a great way to keep your dog entertained.
Peanut butter contains protein, fatty acids, and vitamins B and E, that all help to keep your dog healthy. However, you may recently have heard conflicting advice about whether peanut butter is safe or unsafe for dogs.
The good news is that peanut butter is safe as long as you choose the right one. When choosing a peanut butter for your dog, ensure that it is unsalted and contains no sugar substitutes, particularly xylitol, which can cause serious problems.
What is xylitol?
Xylitol is a form of sugar substitute made from a naturally occurring alcohol. While it is found in many fruits and vegetables, it is usually extracted from woody, fibrous plants, such as birch trees or corn husks.
Although it is safe for humans, it causes a reaction in the dog’s pancreas, leading it to release a sudden surge of insulin. Some experts claim that it is around one hundred times as toxic as chocolate to dogs.
Within as little as ten minutes after consumption, it can rapidly lead to hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar, seizures, liver failure, and even death. If your dog has consumed xylitol, you should contact your vet immediately.
Xylitol is found in so many products that it is all too easy to accidentally feed some to your dog. It is commonly used in sweets, mints, chocolate, biscuits, desserts, jams, some condiments, and toothpaste.
For this reason, owners should never use human toothpaste to brush their dog’s teeth.
Can I feed my dog fruit and vegetables?
Fruit and vegetables can form part of your dog’s diet, and they will help to provide some of the nutrients that they need to stay healthy. There are some, however, that you should never feed to your dog and some that are healthy in small amounts.
What fruits are good for my dog?
There are a number of fruits that are good for dogs, often for the same reasons that they are good for humans.
Cranberries are often used to prevent or treat mild urinary conditions by removing unhealthy bacteria; while blueberries provide high levels of antioxidants. Both of these fruits can be given freely.
Some fruits are safe as long as some basic precautions are taken. Pineapples need to be cored.
On hot days, watermelon is a great treat to help keep your dog hydrated, but the seeds and rind should be removed.
Oranges contain high levels of calcium, and vitamin C and, but should be peeled, as the skin is hard for dogs to digest.
What fruits should I limit?
Apples have a high sugar content, which means that they should not be given on a regular basis. If giving dogs the core, the seeds should be removed, as the shell contains amygdalin, a chemical that releases cyanide when digested.
The core can also be a choking hazard, so it is better to simply remove it before giving the apple to your dog.
Pears are lower in sugar in apples, but, again, the seeds and core should be removed for the same reasons.
Bananas may be low in
- high in fibre
but their high sugar content means that they should form only an occasional part of a dog’s diet.
Strawberries contain an enzyme that can help whiten dogs’ teeth as they chew them. However, although strawberries contain no toxic elements they can cause digestive discomfort for some dogs if they eat too many.
Two or three should be fine, but more than that could cause a grumbling stomach. Again, if you do feed your dog strawberries, the best action is to monitor how he responds.
Which fruits should I never give to my dog?
The most common fruit that dogs should never be fed is grapes, whether fresh or as raisins.
Scientists have not yet been able to identity the toxin in grapes that causes the problem, but even a handful can cause severe and irreversible liver damage and kidney failure, leading to death.
Currants and their dried counterparts are also highly toxic and can have a similar effect. Should you dog ingest grapes, currants, or raisins, contact your vet immediately.
Avocado might be good for humans, but they contain persin, which can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, and breathing and heart problems. Persin is found in all parts of the avocado including the flesh, seeds, and leaves.
Rhubarb is a plant that is not uncommonly found in gardens. All parts of the rhubarb plant contain oxalate crystals.
Humans cannot eat the leaves and, while the levels are lower in the stalks, which is why humans are able to safely consume them, they are still too high for dogs’ digestive systems to cope with.
The danger from oxalate crystals is that they bind with calcium, causing levels to drop rapidly. This can lead to digestive problems and renal failure, and may also affect the nervous system.
It is best not to give stone fruits to your pet, as the pits of many of them contain amygdalin, the same chemical found in apple seeds, which degrades into cyanide during digestion.
should all be kept out of dogs’ reach to prevent harm.
In addition, if swallowed, the stones can cause blockages in the digestive system and enteritis.
As it is not unusual for owners to have fruit trees in their gardens, care should be taken when the fruits start to fall that the dog is not eating them from the ground.
Tomatoes should also be treated with care. The red, fleshy part of ripe tomatoes is safe for dogs, but unripened tomatoes can cause stomach upsets.
The main concern with tomatoes, however, is the plant that it grows on. Tomato leaves and stalks contain tomatine and solanine, which are poisonous to dogs. While a small amount should not be harmful, it is better not to take the risk.
Can I feed my dog vegetables?
Just like fruits, there are some vegetables that are safe for your dog, some that can be fed in moderation, and some that should never be given to your pet.
Which are the safe vegetables?
Carrots are great for dogs for a number of reasons. They’re low in calories, and high in fibre, which supports their digestive system. As they’re crunchy, dogs enjoy chewing them, which helps to keep their teeth clean and healthy.
For these reasons carrots are a great substitute for dog treats if your dog needs to lose some weight.
Pumpkin, whether fresh, cooked or canned (as long as there are no added salts or sugars) is perfect for dogs with sensitive stomachs or one that is getting over a digestive upset.
Other squashes are also safe to feed to your pet, while sweet potatoes provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals and fibre. Sliced and dried, they are a great chewy treat.
Green beans are also a good addition to a dog’s diet, as they contain iron and vitamins. Some experts recommend cooking the beans first as they contain a small amount of a protein called lechtin, which can upset the stomach, but others say that the amount is too small to cause a problem.
Which are best given to my dog occasionally?
Leafy, green vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli and sprouts, should be limited, as research suggests that a dog’s digestive system has a limited capability for breaking down the components.
Celery is safe to eat but the crunchiness combined with the ‘string’ on the outside can make it difficult for dogs to chew. Sweet, mild peppers served without the seeds are fine in moderation.
However, spicy peppers can cause stomach upsets, while the seeds can irritate eyes if they come into contact.
And which should I never give my dog?
The worst vegetables for dogs to consume are onions, chives, and garlic. All three contain disulfides and sulfoxides (thiosulphate), which damage red blood cells and cause anaemia. Green or raw potatoes are toxic to canines, although potatoes cooked without seasoning can be offered occasionally.
Mushrooms are best avoided as, while some are safe, others can upset dogs’ stomachs. As it’s not easy to tell many types apart, it is easier simply not to feed them to your pet.
Corn on the cob is a definite hazard to your dog’s health. Canines struggle to digest corn anyway, as you have probably noticed cleaning up after them and, if they eat the cob, it can become lodged in the small intestine. If this happens, surgical intervention is required.
Are nuts safe?
Just as for children, all nuts are a choking hazard for dogs. As dog owners are no doubt aware, dogs don’t chew their food the way that humans do, and it is all too easy for a nut to become lodged in their throat or windpipe.
Macadamia nuts, however, should be strictly avoided. They contain a toxin, yet to be identified, that can cause
- ataxia (a loss of coordination)
These symptoms may take up to twelve hours to appear after consumption. Although every dog is different, very small amounts can be poisonous, so it is best to contact a vet immediately if you become aware that your pet may have eaten some.
In addition to macadamia nuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans and pistachios all carry a high risk of causing gastro-intestinal problems, pancreatitis, or even neurological problems, should a great enough quantity be ingested.
What breakfast foods are suitable?
If your dog wants to share your breakfast, oatmeal is a great start to the day for both of you. Oatmeal is high in soluble fibre, making it perfect for dogs that have problems with constipation, or that have problems digesting other forms.
It is also wheat-free for those with a sensitivity to wheat. Oatmeal should be cooked with water and served, cooled, with no flavouring.
Bread is safe for dogs but it offers little nutritional value. Raw yeast, or anything containing raw yeast, must be kept away from dogs. Yeast will expand and rise in the warmth of the dog’s stomach, causing problems ranging from stomach ache and flatulence, through to rupturing of the stomach and intestines.
Just as we like snacks, so do dogs. But, as we all know, many snacks are high in fat, salt, and sugar, and so should be permitted only in very small amounts. Some should be avoided altogether.
Yes, it is. Cocoa, which makes human chocolate, contains theobromine and theophylline, which affect calcium and energy levels.
The darker the chocolate, (i.e. the higher the cocoa content) the greater the quantity. Even a tiny amount of milk chocolate can be enough to bring on symptoms such as
- and restlessness.
More severe signs of poisoning include ataxia, tremors, a change in heart rate, irregular heartbeat, and seizures. Left untreated, the animal may fall into a coma and, eventually, die.
Signs of chocolate poisoning usually take between six and twelve hours to appear after consumption. If there is any suspicion that your dog may have eaten chocolate, contact your vet immediately.
Potato crisps and popcorn are fine given in moderation. Potato crisps contain high levels of fat and salt, while popcorn can be a choking hazard. Un-popped kernels should never be fed to a dog. With both crisps and popcorn, it is best to check what flavourings and additives have been used to ensure that they are safe for your dog.
Apart from water or a small amount of milk, the answer is no.
While your dog might like the taste of your tea or coffee, caffeine is dangerous for them. Dogs are more sensitive to caffeine than humans, and while a couple of laps are fine, drinking a cup of coffee could easily be enough to cause vomiting, tremors, a racing heartbeat, or even seizures.
Other products that include significant levels of caffeine are energy drinks, diet pills, some fizzy drinks - especially colas - and anything that is coffee-flavoured. There is no antidote for caffeine poisoning so, in the event of a significant consumption, owners should contact their vets immediately.
Even if your fizzy drink does not contain caffeine, it is likely to contain high levels of sugar or sweetener. Just like humans, too much sugar can cause weight problems for dogs, and some sweeteners, particularly xylitol, are dangerous for our four legged friends.
Extremely! Alcohol is dangerous for a number of reasons, the first being that many alcoholic products are made from ingredients that are poisonous. Wine is made from grapes which, as covered earlier, are highly toxic to dogs.
Beer is made from hops, which have a similar potential to cause harm to canines. This is in addition to the depressive effect on a dog’s nervous system that alcohol has.
Even small amounts of alcohol can cause serious symptoms: a dog’s breathing, heart rate, and temperature can drop to dangerous levels, along with blood sugar levels, leading to potential hypoglycaemia and seizures.
If enough is consumed, it also alters the blood chemistry, causing a condition called metabolic acidosis, where the blood becomes too acidic. Without treatment, the animal is likely to suffer a heart attack that is often fatal.
Even with prompt treatment, a dog may suffer long term damage to their livers and kidneys. Again, if there is a possibility that a dog has consumed something alcoholic, a vet should be contacted.
As this guide demonstrates, there are many ways that human food can benefit your dog as part of a well-balanced diet.
However, there are also foods that can seriously harm your pet, and which owners should take great care to ensure that their dogs do not consume.
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